Happy Birthday SMS

Let's say you had to compile a historical 'Who's Who' of the mobile communications industry. Who'd make the grade? Bell? Marconi? Gent? McCaw? Dunstone? Ollila? How's about Papworth? What do you mean you've never heard of him? We're talking about Neil Papworth, here, people. Snap to it.

December 7, 2007

10 Min Read
Happy Birthday SMS

By The Informer

Let’s say you had to compile a historical ‘Who’s Who’ of the mobile communications industry. Who’d make the grade? Bell? Marconi? Gent? McCaw? Dunstone? Ollila?

How’s about Papworth? What do you mean you’ve never heard of him? We’re talking about Neil Papworth, here, people. Snap to it.

Neil Papworth, the Informer will have you know, is an engineer who, 15 years ago this very week, sent the World’s First SMS. Containing simply the words ‘Merry Christmas’, this seminal message was sent to some engineers at Vodafone. Papworth was at Airwide Solutions at the time, where he remains to this day. When new people start at Airwide, the HR manager points him out in hushed tones. “That’s Neil Papworth,” they whisper. “He sent the world’s first text message.”

So, happy birthday text messaging and respect to Neil Papworth (the Informer hope’s you’re a reader). If A Week in Wireless was one of those glossy celeb mags, like Hello!, it would feature Mr P. like a shot.

In other people news, Smilin’ Ed Zander showed flagrant disregard for the Informer’s deadline last Friday afternoon and walked the plank at Motorola. He announced just after last week’s edition had gone out that he was fleeing the position of CEO effective January 1st next year. He’ll remain as chairman until the annual shareholders meeting in May.

At this point, no doubt, Moto’s third largest shareholder, Carl Icahn – not the CEO’s number one fan – will hold the door open for Zander as he leaves, closing it with the words: “And stay out,” before lobbing a box of surplus RAZRs onto the street behind him.

But Zander’s sacrifice has not satisfied Icahn, who still yearns to cleave Motorola asunder. “I believe that the steps announced today do not even begin to address the major problems at Motorola,” said Icahn. “In my opinion, Motorola should be split into separate companies: a mobile devices company; an enterprise mobility company; a connected home company; and a company focused on mobile networks infrastructure. In particular, I believe that the best opportunity for the mobile devices’ business to attract top flight management and to prosper and grow is to establish it as a stand alone business.”

The Informer believes that the best opportunity for the mobile devices business would be for it to design some decent phones.

Icahn also said: “I like Ed Zander personally.” The Informer’s glad that Icahn has expressed no such fondness for him, as he has a mortgage to pay and can’t afford the peculiar rewards of the billionaire’s personal favour. Presumably, though, the big E.Z. will stagger away from Motorola beneath a lumping great payoff that will allow him to pursue other interests and spend time with his family until the cows come home. And, as an added bonus, he can start using a Nokia phone, or a Sony Ericsson, without fear of reprisal.

Motorola is to plug its Zander-shaped hole with Greg Brown, until now the firm’s COO. It’s a quick business promoting from the inside, but you have to ask one question: If Brown was unable to exert sufficient positive influence on the firm as its chief operating officer to check its downward slump, what change will be effected by the substitution of an ‘E’ for an ‘O’?

There was yet more top level change to come at Schaumburg, Illinois, as CTO Padmasree Warrior bailed out of Motorola in the wake of Zander’s departure – perhaps giving an insight into what one of Greg Brown’s first moves would have been – and popped up in the same role at Cisco. Here, according to her first (somewhat overblown) Cisco blog post, Warrior will be, among other things, “envisioning and creating the future.”

It used to be that the future was Orange, according to the adverts, anyway. The iPhone is helping the French operator go some way to securing a future of its own, as the firm reported that it shifted 30,000 of the Apple preciouses in the first five days of their Gallic availability. Half of these were new sign-ups to the Orange France network, which is pretty good going for a single model. It’s not clear whether the other 15,000 bought the phone without a contract or if they were upgrade sales.

Over the border in Deutschland, Apple’s distribution partner T-Mobile saw off a sour grapes legal challenge from Vodafone over its right to sell the handset locked only to its network. Vodafone had won a temporary injunction forcing T-Mo to sell an unlocked version of the device but a court in Hamburg this week overturned that ruling. In the UK, T-Mobile has launched a new prepaid web access tariff that gives users unlimited internet on the handsets for just £0.50 per day.

Meanwhile, Google’s changed the bed sheets and waxed its back in a bid to make itself more appealing to all the lovely iPhone users. The company claims its portal has been tweaked so that the full screen display and Safari browser on the phone can make better use of Google functionality. But the user reports coming in suggest Google has been rendered all but unusable on the device.

In other handset news, heavyweight vendor Nokia has predicted big increases in demand for terminals next year. On Tuesday, the Big Finn said it expects 2008 device shipments for the sector as a whole to grow ten per cent on this year’s figure of 1.1 billion units.

No prizes for guessing where all that tasty growth’s going to come from; it’s the emerging markets, said Nokia CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo at the firm’s annual investor shindig this week.

The Informer was always told to honour thy parents, so he’d never disagree with the Victorian Dad of Informa Telecoms & Media, no siree. But Nokia dares to! While ITM reckons that global sub numbers will be up at 3.81 billion by the end of 08, Nokia’s talking a faster, bigger game – projecting that the four billion sub barrier will be broken before 2009.

Markets don’t come much more emerging than Iraq, as the rebuild continues apace, and this week Kuwaiti spendthrift Zain dipped into its big, beautifully embroidered bag of Dinars once again, finding enough to buy Iraqi operator Iraqna for $1.2bn. Zain already holds a licence in Iraq, where it operates under the MTC-Atheer brand and the consolidation of the two operations will give the firm more than seven million customers in the market. Penetration in Iraq is just 33 per cent at the moment, so there’s plenty of room for growth.

Just like there is at Ericsson, which this week issued some good news; a rare thing of late for the Swedish firm. It’s won a contract in Russia with market leader Mobile TeleSystems that will see it supply and deploy a WCDMA/HSPA network. As well as the RAN and core network gear, the Swedes are delivering a bunch of services and the network is due to go live in the second half of next year.

With only one A Week in Wireless left before Christmas, the Informer ventured out of the office last night for the first of hopefully many Yuletide festivities. 3UK was the host and according to the invitation, the venue was some snazzed-up ex-public lavatory.

Upon arrival, the Informer was getting a few funny looks from the other guests and the conversation was stilted as he loitered in the gents outside Aldgate tube station. The bar staff were off-hand and the fragrant blue canapes were undercooked. It took the Informer half an hour and a quiet word from an undercover policeman before he realised the party was at Aldwych, not Aldgate!

Once he’d got his facts straight, the Informer made his way to the party proper. 3UK had, that day, launched its Non Stop Music service. For the princely sum of £0.49 users get 24 hours of music streamed to their device. There are eight different musical genres on offer, the downside is they’re all on a four hour loop that gets rejigged once a week. It’s like rubbish radio that you have to pay for.

It’s also eerily reminiscent of O2’s Visual Radio and Vodafone’s Radio DJ, both of which were launched in February 2006. Neither of which were what could be described as successful, not in the traditional sense of the word anyway. What we have here is a clear case of elements of the past and elements of the future combining to make something not quite as good as either.

Back in the underground bar-toilet, the Informer was told he could choose music from the SMS jukebox. The trouble with this concept was the venue was underground, it’s called The Cellar Bar for goodness’ sake, so the Informer had to leave the warmth (and drinks) behind and make his way out into the rain in order to text through his order (sadly the jukebox didn’t have George Michael’s Let’s Go Outside, so the Informer plumped for 20th Century Boy instead). The upside of all this is the Informer has found a practical use for femto cells.

Unfortunately for 3 it chose to launch its less than exciting music service during the same week as Nokia launched Comes With Music. The premise of the “Comes with Music” initiative is fairly simple. The user buys a Nokia device and gets bundled with it a year’s subscription to a music service, giving them unlimited downloads and a licence to play the songs on their PC as well as their phone. The music is DRM’d so it can’t be copied casually but, at the end of the year, if you choose to terminate your subscription, you get to keep the tunes.

That 3 should choose to launch its service in the same week that Nokia launched something substantially better pretty much sums up the reason we’re seeing operators finally concede that maybe they’re not best placed to deliver such content services.

Nokia’s service is not without its faults. The Finn intends to squeeze a revenue stream out of ‘value add licences’, such as charging a nominal fee to burn a CD, which sounds a bit like charging you for a right you already have. Then there’s the small matter of Nokia’s choice of Microsoft’s PlaysForSure DRM, which is so notoriously device/platform incompatible that even Microsoft doesn’t support it on Zune.

The other issue is that, in order to renew your subscription for another year, so you can keep downloading music, it seems you have to buy another device. This is because the contract is between Nokia and music label Universal, and that contract is tied to the device rather than a user. It’s a model that Apple would be proud of; not only do the users have their music tied to a single device but they have to upgrade that device every year.

In terms of music it’s a bit like Goth-dancing: one step forward, two steps back.

However, it does seem that the music labels are coming around to tackling the ugly reality of illegal file sharing in a way other than carpet bombs packed with legal summons. Already this year we’ve had EMI go down the ‘no DRM’ road, while other major labels such as Universal are still insistent on the ‘music rental’ route as the way forward.

But whichever path you choose, there’s still a significant difference between what is meant by free and what is actually free.

And now that’s all over and done with, the Informer himself is free. Free at last. For a week, at least.

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